The collective yell inside the visitor’s locker room at North Central might have been as much relief as it was joy.
Whatever the case, Center Grove’s players gave themselves every right to celebrate after gutting out a 46-43 overtime win against the third-ranked Panthers on Thursday.
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Despite turning over the basketball an unsightly 24 times, the Trojans did what needed to be done to improve to 3-2 in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference standings and 14-4 overall.
“This was a great game to win. We all came in the locker room and knew it was one of our best wins of the season. Definitely top three,” said Trojans senior forward Karinna Frankel, who scored six points and tied two teammates with a team-high six rebounds.
“We knew we had to do what we practiced and it showed on the court. After the Carmel loss, we went into the gym and practiced as hard as we can. We knew we had to come out strong for North Central and now we’ve got to keep it up the rest of the season.”
Center Grove out-rebounded the Panthers, 28-22. Neither squad shot the ball especially well, though the Trojans fared better — 19 of 45 (.422) to North Central’s 15 of 46 (.326).
The Panthers were forced into 21 turnovers of their own.
Leading by as many as 10 points on three occasions in the third quarter, the Trojans saw the Panthers rally in the fourth to force the extra session.
North Central took a quick 39-37 lead in overtime on a three-point sequence by left-handed senior guard Ajah Stallings, who led all scorers with 19 points. Consecutive buckets by Trojans junior guard Emma Utterback (12 points) were countered by a Stallings’ hoop to make it 41-41.
Another Utterback basket followed by Frankel’s free throw and two charities from Cassidy Hardin (16 points) in the final seconds sealed the win.
“Toughness. Mentally and physically,” said Center Grove coach Kevin Stuckmeyer, explaining his team’s resilience in the face of so many miscues handling the ball. “We didn’t let the adversity hit us.
“In the first half we turned it over a lot. But there was a stretch there in the first half where we composed ourselves at both ends and just played solid. We attacked when we needed to. We didn’t rush shots. That was the best we’ve done on the defensive glass all year.”
The first half saw each squad commit 12 turnovers, but the Trojans pieced together two scoring runs to take a 25-16 lead at break.
North Central opened the game with a 5-0 advantage, but Center Grove settled in at both ends of the floor and eventually took control.
Center Grove returns home Saturday afternoon to host Roncalli.